Top conservative media voices spoke out on the need to keep stories accurate and in-depth, while at the same time citing some of the right-wing media's worst stumbles as points of honor during a panel discussion Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
It has been a rough few months for the right-wing media. After a variety of observers pointed to its ineffectiveness during the 2012 election, it has come under fire again over the last month as major stories from The Daily Caller and Breitbart.com have imploded.
But such concerns were largely ignored during the CPAC panel titled “Survivor: Conservative Media,” which was billed as an examination of the future of right-wing publications. This comes as little surprise, given that representatives from both the Caller and Breitbart.com were featured panelists.
Moderated by Scottie Hughes of the Tea Party News Network, the panel included Katie Pavlich, news editor at Townhall.com and a Fox News Contributor; Seton Motley, a Breitbart.com columnist; Keith Urbahn, co-founder of Javelin; and Lars Larson, a conservative radio talk show host.
While defending their past work, each appeared to espouse traditional journalistic values of accuracy, in-depth reporting and balance.
“Listen to what everyone else is saying, but don't be afraid to break from the pack,” Larson said. “When there is a story, get on it, because there are too many stories that are a sleeper. Fast and Furious was a sleeper for a long time.”
Larson referred to the botched ATF mission, which Pavlich and others had baselessly spun as a a conspiracy by the Obama administration to implement stronger gun laws.
“You've got to go with your credibility and if you're new you will be questioned at first,” said Motley. “If you break the first story on your blog it is not as credible as when you break the fifth story on your blog.”
Rahn said loyalty had to be to facts over political parties.
“You have to treat every story, especially when it is breaking, with a great deal of skepticism,” he said. “I think we have a very thorough process. The loyalty in the end has to be to the truth and to the facts.”
But Rahn then cited one of The Daily Caller's biggest goofs, its controversial claims about Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and his alleged link to prostitution, which has since been called into question by several media outlets who had previously examined the story and declined to run it due to insufficient evidence.
“This has very slowly trickled its way in to the mainstream press,” Rahn said, without noting the criticism of the story. “This is a story we have stuck with and eventually the facts came out and we were proved correct.”
Urbahn raised the recent Bob Woodward story and an alleged “threatening” email from a White House aide. He said conservative media wrongly defended Woodward.
“If you actually look back at his email exchange with the White House, it didn't reflect what Bob Woodward was talking about,” Urbahn said. “That got turned into Bob Woodward, persecuted media. That ran everywhere because it happened to be easy for conservative media to advance that narrative. It is not helpful to elevate icons, liberal icons, guys who have not been reporting the truth for decades.”
Pavlich cited conservative columnist Michelle Malkin as her example of the right way to report, stating, “The reason Michelle Malkin is so successful, if you look at her columns, it is not just opinion. Every single column she's talking about facts.”
At one point, the group disagreed over how openly conservative journalists should promote their political leanings and if that hurts their credibility.
“To identify ourselves as conservative journalists... that concedes way too much to mainstream journalists,” said Will Rahn, deputy editor of The Daily Caller. “Reporting is reporting,” he added. “We don't need to identify as conservative journalists.”
When Rahn raised the conservative media identification issue, Larson countered that that was not the right move.
“I will disgree with you... there is a difference,” he said to Rahn. “First, you have to start with the idea that 90% of American newsrooms... are made up of Democrats, they aren't all far left Democrats, but they are Democrats and they come at stories an entirely different way.”
He later said, “I see left-wing reporters going after left-wing stories and in the commission of the story they are ignoring those lines of inquiry.”
Larson said reporters would ignore teachers helping students with abortions, but did not cite a specific example.
Pavlich took the issue further, claiming “conservative journalism is mainstream.”
“Reporters in conservative media and liberal media are doing the same job, reporting a story,” she said. “The idea that mainstream has more credibility than conservative media is false.”
Motley weighed in, telling conservatives: “Why not embrace [the label] because they are going to drape it over you anyway?”
Rahn shot back: “How much of it is a self-inflicted wound? We have written plenty of stories that have been damaging to the Republicans, we in no way endeared ourselves to the Romney campaign and I am proud of that... we are not loyal to the party.”